Out of the blue, 460 women and children were released from family detention centers in Texas earlier this week. This was after a judge ruled that these facilities were unsuitable to house children. While the decision is a welcome one for human rights, the unexpected release has left families in the lurch. Aid organizations are scrambling to provide shelter, food and emergency care for these families in the wet and frigid month of December.
At these detention facilities, refugees seeking asylum from Central America had reported horrific sexual and child abuse, poor legal representation, and lack of amenities and proper medical care. The answer does not lie in building family-friendly detention centers because, in doing that, refugees will still be seen and treated as criminals.
Most of the women and children who have been released now have nowhere to go and have no access to medical relief. Most of the women are alone, speak little to no English, and are now huddled on the floor of churches in Texas.
Aid organizations are stretched to their limits and need all the help they can get. Even as the release of these families is a win for those of us involved in upholding the rights of women worldwide, our work cannot end with that. While contemplating the plight of these women, let’s not forget the suffering of millions of less fortunate women in our own and poorer countries vulnerable to even worse cases of abuse and mistreatment.
Violence against women is one of the world's most pervasive human rights violations, with one in three women experiencing violence during their life. This affects the victim’s ability to access the full spectrum of their human rights. Such violence prevents women from creating better lives for themselves and their families. Domestic violence affects women and businesses, as most women work and are not able to leave abuse behind while at the workplace.
Among industrialized nations, the United States has the largest number of homeless women and children. And families comprise roughly one-third of the total U.S. homeless population. A typical sheltered homeless family consists of a mother in her late twenties with two children. Almost every one of these women is likely to have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse during their life.
The impact of homelessness on mothers is profound. Women in our country and around the world have the right to live free from fear and harm. And it cannot be delayed any longer.